FAMILIARITY VS FAITH PRACTICE: HOMILY FOR THE 14TH SUNDAY IN ORDIANRY TIME OF THE YEAR (B)
BY REV. FR. BONIFACE NKEM ANUSIEM Ph.D
To be familiar with somebody or something is to have a good knowledge or encounter with the person or thing; it can further entail being informally friendly with the person or thing in question. This is the kind of connection we have with our families, relations, friends, colleagues, mates and our living spaces. Another way of understanding familiarity is to say that we are conversant with somebody or something. While it is advisable to be familiar with persons and things, there is always the danger of our familiarity blocking us from perceiving essential values.
The gospel of toady fits into the explanation above. Our Lord Jesus Christ began his ministry outside his local community Nazareth before making the historic pastoral visit (See Luke 4:23). A little more on this town will be helpful in our explication of the gospel of today. The Name Nazareth has more than one denotation. The most common understands it as meaning branch or shoot. From the Jewish map it lies at the northern end of Israel. At the time of Jesus, it had low estimation among the people. Nathaniel made us know the common saying of the time (Jn 1:46): “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” It could be that it was then a place for the desperately poor, antagonistic and even violent people as we can see in Luke (4:29) where they attempted to murder Jesus Christ. We can imagine any town around us that has a never-do-well character attached to it; that was the nature and character of Nazareth at the time.
Jesus left Nazareth for more than one month. He left as a carpenter; he left as the son of a lowly woman called Mary. He left as a common Nazarene who was very much like other inhabitants of the town facing the same socio-economic challenges. However after the forty days retreat in the wilderness, Jesus came to Nazareth no longer as a mere citizen of the town, but as the messiah with power and authority. He came to the familiar ground with quite unfamiliar arsenals. He came not as a wood carpenter, but as a spiritual carpenter; he did not come to repair broken tables, chairs and farm implements, he rather came to repair the lives of the people. He came as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Ezekiel (in the first reading) which promises the sending of a prophet among the rebels who turned against God. He came not only as Jesus (a common name at the time), but also as the Christ (the anointed one, a name that is peculiar). Our Lord visited not as a member of the community but as its master, teacher and Lord.
Our Lord visited on a Sabbath day. He entered the Synagogue and began to teach. In Luke’s gospel we are told that he stood up to read and they gave him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and he read the prophecy of Isaiah (61: 1ff). Now why did they give him the scroll to read since they did not see him go through any rabbinical school or saw him understudy any teacher? This tells us more about how mischievous the people were. They actually gave him the scroll thinking that he will be unable to read and consequently he will not give any meaningful explanation; hence they were prepared to ridicule him with laughter. But to their amazement and chagrin he not only read the passage well, he went further to explain and interpret the passage in a very challenging way. You can now understand why they had to flash back to the familiar platforms they knew him with. They reminded themselves that he was the carpenter who operated from their neighbourhood (carpenters do not have knowledge beyond hammers and nails), they remembered his poor mother who was not among the women of substance of the time. They knew his cousins or playmates (referred to as his brothers and sisters) who were no more than common folks around. Searching through his maternity, paternity and relationships they could not understand how he got his wisdom and knowledge. We may not really blame them so much because they could only operate from the limits of their knowledge and insight. The people of Nazareth could not also accept the fact that their town is capable of offering something good. They already accepted the common opinion that nothing good can come from among them. Often in life we get what we believe in. The passage ended with Jesus’ amazement at their lack of faith in him. It was upon this that he announced that prophets are worthless among their own people. Because of their lack of faith he could only cure few sick people.
When we get so familiar with people and things, we tend to undermine their fecund and actual propensities. Some parents still do not believe that there children have grown and could cater for themselves. Most great men and women we know in our local and international history as shakers and movers in various fields were not really valued by people very close to them. There may not be need to mention names. I had an experience visiting a certain town in the southwest of Nigeria. As I was in the taxi that took me to the parish of the priest I was visiting, I saw the magnificent house of a known figure in Nigerian history. I was overwhelmed and excited. But the taxi driver who happened to be from the town was unexcited as he managed to answer some of my questions regarding the late legend. I was curious to know why he was not connecting with the story of the man and he bluntly told me that the people of the town disliked the man. He went further to say that the man in question took all their lands to erect plantations for himself and only employed the people to work as slaves for him. I was touched by his details and I wondered how such a man who was in the forefront of Nigerian independence and actually brought the west to lime light could be disliked with such passion; it is all about familiarity.
The rejection of Jesus today at his home town shows us the tension between familiarity and our faith practice. The rejection of Jesus has continued in our day and age though occurring in different ways. We have grown too familiar with the house of God (the church building) that we often fail to remember that it is the house of God. Some of us have grown so familiar with the church that we don’t mind making noise and chatting while the liturgy is going on. We have become so conversant with the church that we don’t mind making and receiving calls, sending and receiving text messages while the Holy Eucharist is being celebrated. Some questions need to be answered: “Do we receive the Holy Eucharist as a faith practice or as a mere familiar practice?” “Do we approach the sacrament of penance as a faith practice of as a conventionally familiar practice?” Do we connect to the word of God in faith or as a normal routine?”
We need to underline the fact that our Lord was unable to do more works in Nazareth because of their lack of faith. The same experience is valid in our day and age. Jesus is ready to do more for you but the quality of your faith can make him do less or none at all. There is need for us to move away from Nazareth. Nazareth here stands for doubt and faithlessness in God which gives rise to rejection of Jesus Christ. Nazareth here also stands for our inattention to God’s unlimited power in any circumstance in our lives. In Nazareth we will fail to see beyond the physical familiar grounds, in Nazareth we can only see Jesus as the mere carpenter of woods and not the spiritual carpenter of our souls. The Nazareth in your life may be as mind boggling and as weakening as the cross of St. Paul in the second reading of today. Like unto St. Paul God is telling us that His grace will be sufficient to lead us out of that Nazareth.
Have a wonderful Sunday and a blessed week ahead.